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Quips, queries, and querulous quibbles from the quirky mind of Don Kahle

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America’s Original Original Sin

July 26th, 2020 by dk
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Why do Americans so quickly line up into opposing sides on topics that gather consensus without controversy in most other societies? Social media and cable news don’t help us unify, but other nations have similar media landscapes. Most other cultures don’t go at it hammer and tongs like we do.

Nobody wasn’t outraged or at least saddened if they watched George Floyd’s final words wept into Minneapolis pavement. Yet our polarization took hold almost immediately. “Defund the police” called for better budgets for social services and community outreach. Others insisted more order could come only from more law enforcement.

On a topic as anodyne as face coverings to limit the spread of the coronavirus, we have a culture war. (Again, our leaders fuel this controversy. But other countries have misguided leaders without the same effect.) Like it or not, we’re living inside Dr. Suess’s fable about star-bellied sneetches shunning those without a green star, and vice versa.

The current Black Lives Matter movement and our ridiculous face-mask face-off have more in common than you might think. It’s past time for America to confront its original  original sin. The moniker itself should give away the ending.

For almost four centuries, our nation has struggled to come to terms with its history with slavery and genocide. Racism came to be known as America’s Original Sin. The first slave ship arrived in America in 1619, but something worse was already here.

Puritans had already settled Jamestown, without grand ambitions except for religious freedom. They wanted mostly to be left alone to live how they believed they should. Native Americans were already here, and not eager to be converted to an ultra-orthodox version of Christianity.

Some Indigenous were slaughtered. Others were shunned. All were disdained. When African slaves arrived later, Puritans usually demurred. Those who bought slaves prided themselves for treating theirs better than their secular neighbors. Slavery was only the first example of Americans’ sneetch-like reflex to separate into “us” and “them.”

The slavery was bad. The sanctimony was — and is — worse.

Everyone in America is holier than thou. It’s just that everyone looks askance at a different “thou” they consider themselves holier than. It’s not just police funding and public health strategies. It’s everything. Did you bring your own shopping bag or not, and did the person ahead of you in the grocery lane do the same? We can’t help but notice.

Does your neighbor drive an electric car or do they insist it’s more important to buy American? Or do they justify their SUV around safety for their children? Or is driving itself proof that they lack the moral fiber interwoven with your carbon fiber bicycle frame?

Are you an Amazon shopper to save money or to reduce vehicle trips? Or is supporting local merchants more important than convenience and selection? Are the eggs in your refrigerator white or brown? I’ll bet you buy the same color every time — because you somehow consider them (and yourself) better.

We’re constantly watching for those we deem lesser. The habit of sanctimony has enslaved us all.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.

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Portlanders Bring Quirk Against Quell

July 24th, 2020 by dk
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Portland is on the national stage these days. Depending on your preferred news sources, this literal street theater can be viewed as a tragedy or a comedy. A closer examination shows a combination of both.

It started with Black Lives Matter protests after George Floyd’s murder, staged each evening in front of the federal courthouse in downtown Portland. Protesters in Eugene pursued a smarter strategy. Local activists here meet and march to different places every night. That way, nobody feels obligated to outdo whatever happened the night before.

After two months of nightly protests, Portland’s activists had begun to lose steam. But then President Donald Trump stepped in as commander in chief.

Fresh from his rousing victory over a few dozen peaceful protesters in Lafayette Square to pose with a Bible, Trump liked the look of soldiers in camouflage “dominating the streets.” His followers were not suitably impressed. Trump needed a better adversary.

Portland filled the bill. Anonymized soldiers with no badges or identifying insignias were sent into Portland to knock a few hippie heads. It was just like the 1960s all over again. (Insert your favorite joke here about Trump’s bone spurs.)

Soldiers essentially kidnapped a young man walking home. He was wearing a black shirt, but was doing nothing violent. Maybe he was wearing anarchisty cologne. Whatever his misdeed, he was whisked off in a rented van and another viral moment was added to the BLM annals. (We used to call this civic journalism, but now it’s just observers with cell phones.)

One of the observers can be heard on the video asking the federal agents for their names or their affiliation. “Use your words,” she told them, which showed how Portlanders were determined to shift the narrative.

Portland’s mayor, the state’s governor and attorney general made it clear that these soldiers were not invited and were not welcome. Lawsuits and Congressional inquiries were launched, but both sides had the video footage they needed to make their case.

Trump could portray himself as a law-and-order president, except without the law part. Protesters could show overreach of power — a chilling example of police state politics.

There isn’t a good word for the festive-yet-also-alarmed mood of these protests. People are frightened and frustrated that change is being resisted, but also celebrating the exhilaration that comes from pursuing a common cause. (The word is eudaemonia, but that’s not helpful.)

After watching the late-night abduction on YouTube, every Portlander who owns a black tee shirt worried they could be next. Protest crowds swelled. And then things got interesting. Naked Athena practiced her yoga poses in the middle of the street and dared soldiers to engage. (They did.)

The Wall of Moms emerged to stand on the front lines, protecting their children from militia violence. Wearing bike helmets and defiant scowls, they confronted the men in camo as the neighborhood bullies they were. Then came the Oregon Dads, with leaf blowers to send the wafts of tear gas back where it came from. Portland Dads to DC: “Get off our lawn!”

This is brilliant strategy. John Lewis always told protesters to “get in the way.” He must be proud, smiling from his new perch above us. When violence is met with the subversive defiance of Pacific Northwest humor, who will look more sympathetic on the nightly news? 

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.

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Reopening Schools is a Dangerous Fantasy

July 17th, 2020 by dk
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Can I just say out loud what many people are thinking? It’s a dangerous fantasy to suppose that schools can reopen this fall in any recognizable fashion. No amount of hand sanitizer, face shields, and rearranged furniture will keep everyone safe.

This creates a huge problem for working parents, for employers, and for society at large. We’ve already lost pedagogic momentum, with no end in sight. Unless and until we reduce infections to a handful, matched with the means to effectively trace any pre-symptomatic connections, we’re not just asking for trouble. We’re begging for it.

We’ve rehearsed the costs connected to a further academic shutdown, but none of it has dissuaded the novel coronavirus from continuing to spread. Millions of people fall down every day, and yet there hasn’t been a movement to repeal gravity. Or maybe there is, somewhere on Twitter or Reddit. Some hard truths cannot be wished away.

Start with the youngest students. Oregon’s tightening regulations have exempted children under 12 from wearing masks in public. Somebody in Salem has apparently seen a child in the real world. It’s important that these youngest feel safe and be safe. That won’t be inside a school anytime soon.

Education is inherently collective. Children learn together. There’s always a level of social engagement that accelerates effort. Sometimes it’s negative — fear of falling behind or being embarrassed. Sometimes it’s positive — impressing a peer or satisfying the teacher.

Education is never a fully shielded experience, mentally or physically. If it was, flash cards would have replaced teachers centuries ago.

Even if we take absolutely every precaution, and somehow enforce those measures without instilling fear or provoking rebellion, it won’t be enough. Kids still need to go to the bathroom. Look up “toilet plume.” It has its own wikipedia page.

Children may feel no symptoms, but what about everyone else they see in a day? How will we protect teachers, administrators, janitors, parents, and grandparents? Imagine Jeffy’s dotted line itinerary in a Family Circus cartoon where everyone who crossed that dotted line became exposed to the virus. It wouldn’t be funny.

Now consider students in high school or college. We can’t get them to wear helmets when skateboarding, and gravity has had its own wikipedia page for longer than the toilet plume. Older students differ from younger ones mostly in their skill at pledging obedience until they think no one is looking. This is not an improvement; it’s an adaptation.

Most college kids want to return to full-time in-person instruction. They claim they have no plans for partying. Yeah, right. Universities seize on these pledges as if they can be believed. Unlike Salem’s lawmakers, college administrators must not know any students.

Society has gotten itself tangled in its own assumptions. Our economy needs both parents working. Parents need schools to raise and feed their kids. Schools need athletes to produce camaraderie and revenue. How many tails are wagging how many dogs here? 

Safety should come first, for children and families. The right decision here is difficult but not unclear. Why do we have such trouble choosing?

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.

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Explaining Trump’s Campaign

July 17th, 2020 by dk
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Explaining President Donald Trump’s 2020 campaign is becoming difficult. The best pundits in the business are at a loss to account for actions both large and small. Why stage a risky public rally in Oklahoma, a state where Trump’s November victory is not in doubt?

Why was Lafayette Square violently cleared so Trump and “a Bible” could pose for the most awkward photo op in the history of this or any White House? And why would his daughter Ivanka post a silly commercial endorsement of Goya beans, clearly violating federal ethics law?

The Trump family seems to be flouting rules, simply to show that they can. In what world does it make sense for the president’s daughter to pose like Vanna White with a can of beans and say, “If it’s Goya, it has to be good!”?

Trump’s monologues have become increasingly incoherent. He cannot complete a thought about the coronavirus or international trade or infrastructure or immigration or public protests. He pings between topics like a racquetball match inside a closet. But on the topic of the media, he has remained suspiciously lucid.

The Washington Post and others must have believed that cataloguing Trump’s misrepresentations would somehow shame him into rectitude. Twenty thousand lies later, Trump has made it part of his brand. “Fake news” has become his favorite battle cry, which may say less about his cry and more about his battle.

I believe Trump is campaigning for the job he wants, not for the job he has. He never wanted to be president. Almost four years later, he’s still the dog who caught the mail truck. He can’t get the taste of bumper out of his mouth.

No, what he always wanted from the start was to be a media mogul. He bought beauty pageants so he could be a star who chose other stars. His “Apprentice” franchise was built on the same premise. His presidential cabinet meetings are no different. His preferred shtick is to pick the winners, beginning with himself.

When Roger Ailes was forced out at FOX News exactly four years ago this week, Trump had a solid Plan A for what he would do after losing in November to Hillary Clinton. He would take his aggrieved voters with him onto a new network for victimized white people, finding full-time fault with every action taken by Hillary’s White House.

Unfortunately for Trump, Wisconsin voters had a different plan in 2016. Now he can’t wait until 2024. One America News Network is growing into the conspiracy-loving niche Trump was saving for himself. Trump seems more determined to lose this time around.

But he has to lose in the right way. It has to be suspicious, scandalous, unfair. There has to be an “untold truth” the Trump Network can tell. His devoted followers — his political base — barely rises above 30 percent. That’s not enough to win an election, but it’s a healthy market share on cable TV.

For all we know, Goya beans may be lined up as one of the network’s first program sponsors. Unbelievable, yes. But what isn’t these days?

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.

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Here’s Why Masks Are Difficult for Americans

July 11th, 2020 by dk
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Whether by planning or chance, nations tend to grow up around some single core value. That value is affirmed by literally millions of choices made by its citizens. Long before corporations learned to ape the same dynamic, nations often developed a brand that was considered unique to it and its people.

Germany is productive. The Swiss are precise. Japan is orderly. Italians are creative. The French value beauty. These stereotypes have limitations, but they also organize many citizens’ lives in ways that are invisible, except at the macro scale. France surrendered to the Germans in WWII to keep The Louvre and the Eiffel Tower from getting bombed. Millions of tourists since have expressed their gratitude for that surrender.

This may be a distinction considered too subtle for some, but I’m in favor of stereotypes and opposed to clichés. Whether we’re comfortable admitting it or not, all of us make micro-judgements dozens or hundreds of times each day. Life wouldn’t be manageable without categorizing stimuli based on past experiences. It becomes cliché, a.k.a. bigotry, only when exceptions are no longer allowed to the rule.

This broad-brush understanding of a nation’s self-image can help to explain why so many Americans resist wearing masks and taking other COVID-19 precautions. Freedom is our brand. It’s how many of us organize our choices.

Our nation was born from a desire for independence. We wanted to be free. Free to speak our minds. Free to gather in groups. Free to practice our religion. Free to hear and read voices that our government would rather suppress.

Critics rightly point to our history’s missteps against the brand. White men who owned property fought for their freedom, but resisted attempts to give freedom and independence to Blacks and women. Fortunately, our press and assembly freedoms exposed those inconsistencies and hastened some necessary changes. The process is ongoing, but the systems are sound.

Or so it seemed, until recently.

When freedom is your core value, opposition to government mandates is baked into the cake. Government must continually build trust with its citizens, or order quickly slips away. “Masks won’t make a difference.” “Work is more important than public health.” “Vaccines open the door to mind control.”

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when or how, but freedom-loving Americans seem to have lost their way. Liberty has devolved into libertinism. We want absolute freedom. Gravity and common sense should not limit our options. How did it become patriotic to do something stupid?

We’ve become a glandular people, driven by personal urges and not by common values. We’re busily exposing the shortcomings of our founders, blind to the risks they took to achieve what we have. They bound themselves to one another. Freedom was their goal, but bravery was their means. Those two values were always inseparable.

We applaud whenever a singer hits the impossible high note in our national anthem, celebrating that we live “in the land of the free.” But our cheering obscures what bought that freedom. To continue our fight for freedom, we must maintain “the home of the brave.”

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.

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What Else Might Spread Like Wildfire This Summer?

July 10th, 2020 by dk
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Think of the current public health crisis as lightning, seen quickly from a distant source. Then there’s a pause. The thunder clap of economic disaster has only begun to roll our way. Bankruptcies, layoffs, foreclosures and evictions have been artificially halted by government interventions. We can cover our ears for only so long.

For a culture that values prosperity above all else, it will be a rude awakening. We’ve been blissfully unaware of the consequences of COVID-19 so far in Lane County. Many of us may know somebody who has tested positive, but no one who has gotten gravely ill. Economic distress will be harder to miss.

Favorite restaurants will close down. Friends and neighbors will need work when their pandemic disaster funds expire. Those who have fallen behind on rent or mortgage payments will be removed from their homes before social services can function again at peak capacity.

City and state budgets will almost certainly face draconian cuts, leaving citizens less safe and less served. Even if the federal government intervenes, it will stall but not stem the tide. Deficits themselves will eventually cause concern. If inflation ramps up, those who have enough money will need more to stay even.

What more can be added to this fearful feast of forebodings? As disasters around us spread like wildfire, don’t forget to worry about wildfires.

The beginning of our summer season in Lane County has been cooler and wetter than usual, but that’s not likely to continue into August and September. Once the air warms a bit more in the mountains, lightning and the fires they start will become more frequent.

Nobody knows exactly how fire crews will be able to protect us from spreading fires while also protecting themselves from spreading the virus. Social distancing isn’t exactly compatible with the rapid response necessary to contain a fire.

Fire crews typically work shoulder-to-shoulder, ride in trucks to a safe clearing at the end of their shift, and camp close together overnight. None of that will be the norm this season, but it’s unrealistic to expect fire management staff to completely reinvent how they do their work.

Personal safety concerns and funding constraints may tempt officials to let fires on public lands burn themselves out naturally. This is not uncommon on land where property and lives are not at risk. But this summer’s calculation will not be so simple.

“COVID-19 primarily affects the lungs, [so] people are going to be more likely to develop severe symptoms if they have certain types of respiratory diseases,” public health expert Marcia Castro told Politico. “And those respiratory diseases can be made much worse because of pollutants due to fires.”

Summer breezes could carry smoke our way, bringing more deaths to our valley. Hospital ventilators may quickly be in short supply. 

I wouldn’t blame you if you began watching for the four horsemen of the apocalypse right about now. East Africa is seeing its worst locust invasion in a century, but that’s one epic plague that hasn’t reached America — at least not yet.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.

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Democrats Should Embrace DC Statehood

July 4th, 2020 by dk
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Joe Biden should go all in on statehood for Washington, DC. It will further both voter empowerment and Black Lives Matter. It will also energize voters in non-swing states and could give Democrats an enduring advantage. Don’t think for a moment that Republicans wouldn’t seize these advantages if they were theirs.

Republicans have made disenfranchising voters a surprisingly bold keystone of their electoral strategy. They advocate fewer polling locations, shorter hours, longer lines — each designed to increase the inconvenience of voting. They want fewer participants in what they still call democracy.

Before the Trump era, they did the extra work to maintain a pretense about why their policy preferences suppress voter turnout. They pretended to be concerned about fraud or public expense or private responsibility or local autonomy. Not anymore. Now they are Marie Kondo converts, banishing the clutter of voters who don’t give them joy.

Against that backdrop, Biden’s endorsement of DC statehood would paint a stark contrast. Our nation’s capital has more residents than Wyoming or Vermont. Its residents pay more in taxes collectively than 22 other states. They bear all the burdens of citizenship, while being denied democracy’s most basic privilege.

Our nation was founded on a protest that still applies to residents of the District of Columbia. Their license plates are embossed with “Taxation Without Representation.” When President Trump called in the National Guard to protect the White House against protesters, he didn’t need the governor’s agreement, because DC has no governor.

Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser responded by changing one of the only things she could. She renamed a street near the protests as “Black Lives Matter Plaza” and she authorized a street mural that has been replicated in Eugene and dozens of other cities. Did I mention that the majority of DC residents are Black? That shouldn’t matter, but it does.

Last week, the House of Representatives voted to make Washington our 51st state. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell promised to bring the bill to the Senate floor sometime after the sun has cooled. No surprise there. No state in the union is as heavily Democratic as the District. Trump garnered 4 percent of the District’s 2016 votes.

It’s safe to say that DC’s statehood would add two Democratic Senators and one additional Democrat in the House. Admission to the union usually requires a two-thirds endorsement from both houses of Congress. Or a Constitutional Convention, requiring support of statehouses across the country.

If Democrats across the country believed that the route for DC’s statehood might require support from their state legislatures, downballot campaigns would gain national significance. Every Democratic vote would be worth fighting for, even in states where the electoral votes were not in play. 

Inviting DC’s 700,000 residents into the union would strike a much belated blow for democracy — and for Democrats. Any initiative that drives voter enthusiasm and turnout should please Democrats and worry Republicans. Decisive wins  in November could add stars to Old Glory — plural.

DC deserves to be first, but Democrats should continue adding sympathetic Senators by inviting Puerto Rico and Guam into the union as well.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.

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“Civil War” Ends in Oregon — Tell the Supreme Court

July 3rd, 2020 by dk
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Oregon never meant for its Civil War sport rivalries to be taken seriously. The games, yes, but the name, no. Only Oregonians can keep a straight face when pondering whether Ducks or Beavers are more fearsome. Before roads were reliable, college-bound students tended to stay close to home.

Corvallis or Eugene? Parents might have though there was barely a spit of difference between them, until the games began. Then it was like the war that tore families apart, rent by competing loyalties.

It’ll be fun dreaming up new names for the series, especially because the “Civil War” moniker was popularized in the 1930s by Portland newspaper columnist L. H. Gregory. (He’s also credited with “Tall Firs” and “Webfoots.”)

But this column is not about good sports. It’s about sore losers.

With all due respect to Gregory, after our real Civil War was fought, we should have left it at that. Instead, we re-litigate the conflict as if it’s recreation for some, which it literally is. The best reason for dropping the name is to break that bad habit.

The habit does seem to be breaking, like a fever that left us delirious for a century and a half. Mississippi will change its flag. NASCAR emblems are adapting. Pigeons see fewer Confederate war heroes from above. We might even rename our own county, ending another glorification of a Confederate leader. The rebels did lose, after all.

News of the union’s victory didn’t reach parts of Texas until Juneteenth, long after the war ended. In a similar way, news of the South’s defeat has been slow to arrive in certain areas. Or it did arrive, only to be forgotten, again and again. This has produced a Sore Loser Syndrome that keeps us from moving forward together as a nation.

Losers can stay Americans, but they should be forced to admit they lost. That’s what must be required for a civil society. We cannot endlessly re-litigate our past battles and expect to move forward together.

Our bad habit of re-litigating reaches the highest corners of our nation. Let me take you now to the United States Supreme Court, where nine justices should have unanimously rejected a literal re-litigation, but they didn’t.

Four years ago, the Supreme Court ruled that a Texas law was unconstitutional because it would have closed virtually ever abortion clinic in the state, under the guise of protecting the health of the mother. It was narrowly decided 5-4, but it was decided.

Sore Loser Syndrome took hold when neighboring Louisiana wrote a law that was almost identical to the Texas law and they rushed it to the Supreme Court, hoping for a different decision on the exact same issue.

Fortunately, Chief Justice John Roberts joined the four so-called liberal justices to make sure Louisiana received the same outcome as Texas, even though he had voted in favor of the Texas law in 2016. 

Unlike an intrastate sports rivalry, Supreme Court battles shouldn’t be repeated over and over, just for the fun of it. Let winners be gracious and losers be not sore.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.

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Biden Can Make It Competence Vs Corruption

June 27th, 2020 by dk
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Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden promises to restore honor, stability and normalcy to the White House, if he’s elected in November. COVID-19 has restricted what would normally constitute a presidential campaign. Biden is raising money better than he’s raising awareness.

Whether you love our current President or hate him, everybody is talking about Trump’s campaign rally in Tulsa. It created high levels of “engagement.” There’s no such thing as bad publicity. News about about Mary Elizabeth Taylor went unnoticed. If the Democrats run a shrewd presidential campaign, you may hear her name often.

Taylor was the assistant secretary of state for legislative affairs, after serving the Trump administration and campaign in a variety of other roles. She submitted her resignation the day before the Tulsa rally to protest “comments and actions surrounding racial injustice.” Her letter ended, “I must follow the dictates of my conscience and resign.”

Few others have been so bold in their resignations, though there have been an unprecedented number of them. Pity the poor family of former Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis. His resignation letter didn’t state that he wanted to spend more time with them.

“Protest resignations” — yes, that’s a thing — have more commonly come from the non-political ranks of the civil service. Many have quit after political appointees arrived with strong ideas about how the professionals should do their jobs.

In many but not all cases, these protest resignations are not based on partisan disagreements. What the exiting employees find objectionable is the incompetence and the corruption. Some have sought whistleblower protections, but not many. Like it or not, Washington, DC operates as a small town. Reputations are not easily repaired.

Trump’s supporters and enablers delight in these resignations. They believe less government is better. Bad government serves their purposes better than good government. Having fewer competent workers thins the bureaucracy. Expertise is always suspect. Extremist on the political right rail against the so-called “deep state.”

They chant “drain the swamp” while the rest of America sees a dangerous brain drain that leaves the federal government unable to function normally. It’s into this breach that Biden can bring the battle. Honor, stability, and normalcy are leaking away, bit by bit.

Biden should announce that any civil servant who resigns under protest in the coming four months will be considered for reinstatement (with seniority restored) once he enters the White House.

How many federal government workers would welcome the opportunity to take a break from government service unless and until competent adults return to lead their departments? You have no idea how dispirited the rank-and-file has become under Trump’s lack of leadership. A short sabbatical would be a very attractive option.

Democrats could characterize the mass exodus as another protest march — this one by professionals choosing competence over corruption.

Freed from their necessarily non-partisan role as government employees, they could speak freely about what they saw. They could work diligently for new leadership. And Biden could keep a running tally of how many people have witnessed how badly government is performing, who want to see things change.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.

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Here’s How Businesses Can Support BLM Quickly

June 26th, 2020 by dk
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Your bosses responded to the current civic unrest by painting “Black Lives Matter” on the business’s windows. They understand it’s only a token gesture and they have to do more. They have pledged to review hiring and promotion practices, creating a workplace that roots out racial and economic injustices. Those corrections take time.

What else can they do right now that matches the urgency of this moment? The suggestion box is waiting to be filled. Your company should declare Tuesday, November 3rd — and every national Election Day — a paid holiday for all its workers. Close the doors for that day, because there’s something more important to do than work.

It’s sad but true that our state and national governments have lost their ability to lead. Many business owners are trying to take up the slack. When it comes to minimum wages, office recycling, alternative commute strategies, they aren’t waiting for our leaders. They are showing the way.

If the business you work for announces that no work will be done on Election Day, other businesses will follow. Once it becomes a talking point at the Downtown Athletic Club, the idea will spread as fast as —. (No, let’s not go there.) But what if your bosses don’t want to stop there? There’s still room in that suggestion box.

They can allow a voter registration table to be set up in the break room. Oregon leads the nation with the first voter-motor law. Registering to vote here is so easy, it’s almost automatic. But not everybody drives. Some out-of-staters don’t get an Oregon drivers license right away. Or they do, and then they move, invalidating their voter registration.

Of course, registering to vote is not the goal. Voting is what matters. Your employer could make that point by hosting a watch party — or multiple watch parties, if necessary — on the evening of Election Day, so that employees can enjoy this company benefit together. You can cheer together any uptick in voter turnout, regardless of who wins.

Businesses think of themselves as non-political. Good for them. An inclusive workplace prohibits political statements. But that’s not quite right. Partisan messages speak for only one side. Genuine political messages speak for the whole. Voting is the goal  of these suggestions — not campaigning for one side. We’re all equal at the dropbox.

Endorsing voter registration is not partisan. It’s citizenship. And if the voter registration table in the lunchroom is accepted, then ask to do the same in the lobby or sidewalk. Vendors and customers will welcome the message that this is a company that empowers people.

Because that’s what this is really all about — empowerment. Marching in the streets, chanting slogans, toppling statues are fervent attempts to reset the power equation. Collective action exerts power. Engaged employees make suggestions. Enlightened shoppers leverage their buying decisions. We must wield our collective power with care.

We have many paths to empowerment. One celebrates our origins and points to a brighter future — voting. Government authorities don’t always have a suggestion box outside their offices. But they have something that’s roughly equivalent — the ballot box.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.

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